Edward Scissorhands has a lot going for it in the abstract, starting with built-in name recognition from the 1990 Tim Burton film. Burton's sweet fable about the manmade boy whose inventor is killed before hands can be attached has been reconceived in movement by dance wunderkind Matthew Bourne, mostly to swelling themes from the original soundtrack by popular movie composer Danny Elfman. That's not enough for you? Add the fun set designs by Lez Brotherston that follow the lead of the film's satirical motifs and colors. After Edward is taken in by a cheerful suburban family, he moves to a subdivision where homes are painted in discomfortingly soothing pastels. Streetlights peer down onto the stage like the alien creatures in The War of the Worlds.
The evening provides some lyrical sequences, mostly when Bourne breaks free from the storytelling demands of the narrative and allows himself to get inside Edward's head. The interlude when Edward imagines himself dancing with three high school cheerleaders (replete with electric pink pom-poms) is lovely. The magical scene in which Edward's ornately trimmed shrubs begin to dance is reminiscent of inanimate objects coming to life in The Nutcracker, which is perhaps not a bad role model for a piece like this. But these are random moments. As dance theater Edward Scissorhands is as incomplete as its title character.
You'd think this fanciful fable would be an ideal candidate for stage reinterpretation. For some time now, theatergoers have shown a real proclivity for sympathetic freak shows. Farewell, the era of the handsome, virile Broadway leading man; brawn has been replaced by the disfigured likes of the isolated protagonists in The Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast. Surely Edward Scissorhands is cut from that same cloth. But there's one significant difference: Edward originally was conceived for the camera. He is the creation of a mind that thinks in terms of lenses. Ask yourself: What do you remember most about the movie? For me it's the delightfully original sequences of Edward trimming shrubs into works of art, and the anguish of Johnny Depp's innocent eyes upon understanding that Edward will forever be an outsider.
Unfortunately, this production is unable to deliver either of those moments. Edward does trim one shrub, but that's perfunctory stuff, over almost before it starts. And in terms of pure emotion, Depp could do more with a two-second close-up than all this movement can accomplish in two hours. Not that we want to see the movie literally rendered onstage. But I do expect to experience the spine of the film, not merely the plot points. Bourne has labeled his show a "theatrical dance sensation." I saw the dance, but anything that could purport to be unusually theatrical or remotely sensational eluded me. To the contrary, all night long I kept waiting for something to happen; it never did.
I am not a dance critic; I wouldn't presume to render judgment on the caliber of the execution here, which I assume is outstanding. So far as I could tell, on opening night Richard Winsor (who rotates with Sam Archer) performed the title role persuasively. But at evening's end as people were leaving the theater, the comment I heard most was, "How does he dance with those scissors on his hands?" Such a question hardly suggests that viewers were emotionally affected.
Bourne may be England's most successful choreographer-director. And he did win a Tony Award for his unique Swan Lake, which made no pretense of trying to adhere to the conventions of musical theater. But here he has not instilled the evening with the sort of emotional rising line found in the work of theater-bred choreographers like Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins or Bob Fosse. Edward Scissorhands might as well be Johnny One-Note, because for the most part it is as flat as the stage upon which it is performed.